Position Description

Vacuum Systems Engineer
Job Category Fulltime Regular
ExemptOvertimeEligible Exempt
Benefits Eligible Benefit Based
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Job Summary

LIGO Laboratory (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) seeks a highly motivated and skilled Vacuum Systems Engineer to join its team. 

This position is located in Pasadena, California.

LIGO Laboratory is a National Science Foundation major facility dedicated to observing the newly discovered gravitational-wave universe. Jointly operated by the California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the LIGO Laboratory operates world-leading observatories near Richland, WA and Baton Rouge, LA as well as R&D centers on the Caltech and MIT campuses. The LIGO Laboratory’s mission spans a broad and vibrant array of activities related to gravitational-wave physics and astronomy, including detector operations, R&D toward detector improvements, gravitational-wave astrophysics, observatory operations, and education and public outreach.

For more information, please visit the Laboratory website at www.ligo.caltech.edu

Life at Caltech/LIGO
LIGO Caltech is located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Caltech has an extraordinary science impact across many fields. Its small size creates a community where innovation and collaboration are the norm. Caltech manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for NASA, the leading US center for the robotic exploration of the Solar System. Caltech also operates large-scale research facilities such as the Palomar and Keck Observatories.

Pasadena is a city known for its contributions to science and technology, rich history, cultural treasures, and scenic beauty. The year-round comfortable weather creates a desirable environment for life and ideas to thrive. See  Bill Nye’s take on our city .

People choose to work at LIGO for many reasons, often with fulfilling, long-term careers. LIGO is a family-friendly laboratory and strives to ensure everyone is able to achieve the work-life balance they desire. Caltech’s benefits program offers a quality, competitive benefits package that is affordable for you and the Institute. The program provides a strong base of coverage for you and your dependents, and the ability to choose the plan and the level of coverage that best meet your needs. We also offer a 403(b) defined contribution plan to eligible staff as well as a Voluntary Retirement Savings (TDA) Plan. LIGO Caltech staff have access to the Institute’s facilities, including the athletic center, libraries, on-site daycare, professional development and enrichment classes, and Athenaeum club memberships (only Caltech site template)

Caltech HR diversity page:  https://hr.caltech.edu/careers/2commitment-diversity

Caltech and LIGO Laboratory’s goal is to build a world-class, diverse workforce and support an inclusive environment that encourages professional development and offers top-notch benefits. Our talented staff, who work at the Caltech campus, or one of our Observatories, come from a variety of fields. Positions include scientists, engineers, information technology staff, outreach professionals, managers, writers, business professionals, and administrative staff. We are deeply committed to encouraging people of all backgrounds to apply for these opportunities. Our experience has demonstrated that the broader the styles, characteristics, backgrounds, and abilities of our staff—in other words, the more diverse our team is—the greater potential we have for success. Caltech is an equal opportunity employer.

LIGO Laboratory is committed to being a welcoming place for everyone regardless of race, color, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or veteran status.

Essential Job Duties

  • Oversee the vacuum preparation lab. The vacuum preparation lab provides an equitable share of support for in-vacuum components required for LLO, LHO, LASTI and the 40m. 
  • Oversee the optical contamination lab. The optical contamination lab has two high finesse optical contamination cavities for the purpose of qualifying/testing materials for use in the LIGO Ultra-High Vacuum (UHV) system. 
  • Support the vortex lab. The vortex lab has an UHV test system to investigate and characterize water vapor adsorption and desorption on simulated LIGO beam tube surfaces. 
  • Support the LIDT lab. The Laser Induced Damage Threshold (LIDT) Lab is used to quantify the effects of irradiation level on surface damage of ion beam sputtered coatings under vacuum.
  • Support other research labs at Caltech as assigned.
  • Specifically, the individual would:
    • Perform cleaning, vacuum baking and RGA qualification for UHV parts (primarily focused on one off items that require special handling or processing).
    • Perform proof and leak testing (via a range of techniques and processes) as required for specific parts to be qualified for use in the LIGO vacuum system.
    • Import data into both MATLAB and Mathematica and utilize existing scripts to analyze and post process RGA scans of e.g., bake loads and vacuum systems.
    • Support on-going operations with investigations of possible materials compatibility issues as well as qualifying alternative materials).
  • Keep assigned equipment including e.g., vacuum chambers, clean room(s) and associated test equipment running, maintained and supplied and keep assigned laboratories stocked and organized.
  • Execute vent and pump down activities by qualifying performance of vacuum equipment, venting/pumping large volumes, removing/installing chamber doors, leak checking, analyzing RGA data, and operating gate valves.
  • Utilize a scanning dark field microscope for automated defect inspection on optics.
  • Operate and run lasers.
  • Design, implement, and test controls systems for vacuum equipment operation and safety interlocks.
  • Write specifications, select, and procure vacuum equipment including turbo and ion pumps, gauges, valves; interface with suppliers.
  • Implement modifications to vacuum boundaries when required; install and test vacuum components/equipment and leak check joints.
  • Support other engineering staff and scientists performing experiments involving the vacuum systems and equipment. Ensure all operations are performed safely, minimizing risk to machines.
  • Work individually and in a team environment.
  • Travel to the other LIGO sites (Hanford, Livingston and MIT) will be required (up to 25% of time).

Basic Qualifications

  • BS in Mechanical, Aerospace, Chemical or Systems Engineering; Physics; Material Science; or a related scientific or engineering field. We will also consider 5 years of experience in a related field in lieu of a degree.
  • 2+ years of vacuum-related engineering or scientific research work experience.
  • Demonstrated proficiency in operation, analysis, and performance characterization of high- or ultra-high vacuum systems.
  • Knowledge and experience in selection and application of UHV-compatible materials.
  • Be proficient with computer applications (e.g., Word, Excel, Web applications).
  • Possess the ability to read and understand mechanical and electrical drawings, technical specifications and assembly instructions.
  • Possess good verbal and written communication skills, ability to work well in a team, and a high degree of professional discipline.
  • Ability to lift over 20 lbs.

Preferred Qualifications

  • Experience related to industrial automation as applied to large-scale vacuum systems.
  • Master’s degree in engineering related field.
  • Experience related to the operation of vacuum bake ovens.
  • Hands-on experience and skill in building, improving and maintaining high- or ultra-high vacuum systems.
  • Experience working in a large-scale R&D environment.
  • Operational experience with cleanroom environments.
  • Experience with basic machining methods, tools and shop skills.
  • Laser safety knowledge and experience

Required Documents

  • Resume
  • Cover Letter


COVID-19 Vaccine Required for All Employees

Caltech has implemented a mandatory vaccination policy effective October 15, 2021, requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees (with Institute-approved exemptions for religious or medical contraindications only). At present, an individual is deemed “fully vaccinated” when that person has received, at least 14 days prior, either the second dose in a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series (e.g., Pfizer or Moderna) or a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine (e.g., Johnson & Johnson). Upon eligibility, employees are required to receive the COVID-19 booster as part of the vaccine mandate. As a condition of employment, employees must submit official COVID-19 vaccine documentation. More information may be found here.

EEO Statement

We are an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

Caltech is a VEVRAA Federal Contractor.

To read more Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) go to eeoc_self_print_poster.pdf.

Disability Accommodations

If you would like to request an accommodation in completing this application, interviewing, or otherwise participating in the employee selection process, please direct your inquiries to Caltech Recruiting at employment@caltech.edu

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